The Fall – An Excerpt

Let’s sit down on these steamer chairs. What a fog! I interrupted myself, I believe, on the way to the little-ease. Yes, I’ll tell you what I mean. After having struggled, after having used up all my in-solent airs, discouraged by the uselessness of my efforts, I made up my mind to leave the society of men.

No, no, I didn’t look for a desert island; there are no more. I simply took refuge among women. As you know, they don’t really condemn any [99] weakness; they would be more inclined to try to humiliate or disarm our strength. This is why woman is the reward, not of the warrior, but of the criminal. She is his harbor, his haven; it is in a woman’s bed that he is generally arrested. Is she not all that remains to us of earthly paradise? In distress, I hastened to my natural harbor.

But I no longer indulged in pretty speeches. I still gambled a little, out of habit; but invention was lacking. I hesitate to admit it for fear of using a few more naughty words: it seems to me that at that time I felt the need of love. Obscene, isn’t it? In any case, I experienced a secret suffering, a sort of privation that made me emptier and allowed me, partly through obligation and partly out of curiosity, to make a few commitments. Inasmuch as I needed to love and be loved, I thought I was in love. In other words, I acted the fool.

I often caught myself asking a question which, as a man of experience, I had always previously avoided. I would hear myself asking: “Do you love me?” You know that it is customary to answer in such cases: “And you?” If I answered yes, I found myself committed beyond my real feelings. If I dared to say no, I ran the risk of ceasing to be loved, and I would suffer therefor. The greater the threat to the feeling in which I had hoped to find calm, the more I demanded that feeling of my partner. Hence I was led to ever more explicit promises and came to expect of my heart an ever more sweeping feeling. Thus I developed a deceptive passion for a charming fool of a woman who had so thoroughly read “true love” stories that she spoke of love with the assurance and conviction of an intellectual announcing the classless society. Such conviction, as you must know, is contagious.

I tried myself out at tallying likewise of love and eventually convinced myself. At least until she became my mistress and I realized that the “true love” stories, though they taught how to talk of love, did not teach how to make love. After having loved a parrot, I had to go to bed with a serpent.

So I looked elsewhere for the love promised by books, which I had never encountered in life. But I lacked practice. For more than thirty years I had been in love exclusively with myself. What hope was there of losing such a habit?

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The Fall, Albert Camus